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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Signature Quilts: Voting with their Needles

The Lake County Discovery Museum holds three signature quilts in its permanent collections, dating from 1891 - 1915.

Signature quilts became popular in the 1840s, in part due to early Victorian sentimentality and to mark special occasions such as marriages and births. A decade later, with westward migration, women followed their husbands into the American frontier and the quilts became a way to remember family and friends left behind.

Partial view of the "Quilt Treasures: Pieces of History" exhibition at the Lake County Discovery Museum, July 2 - September 25, 2011.

Quilts were sometimes used to publicly express women’s opinions. Nationally, prior to 1920, women were not allowed to vote, but these quilts were an acceptable form of self-expression. Women "voted with their needles" as a way to make their voices heard in political and social causes.

Signature quilts gave women recognition and a presence in society by the fact that their names appeared in ink and embroidery on quilts that were prominently displayed and often auctioned in fundraisers. At the time, men's names were most visible in society, and women were known as Mrs. So-and-So. Today, these quilts are valued as "documents" of the past for the individual and family names they have preserved. In some instances, a signature quilt may be the only record of a woman's name.

Section of signature quilt made by the Ladies’ Aid Society, Christian Church of Gurnee, Illinois, circa 1891-1892. LCDM 83.11.1

This quilt was made by the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Christian Church of Gurnee for a bazaar to raise funds to donate to causes such as missionary efforts. The ladies involved signed the names of their families, 147 names in all. The quilt blocks were machine-stitched and the layers quilted by hand. The signatures were signed in ink.

Detail from the Ladies' Aid Society signature quilt with the names of Lawson and Cook family members. (above)

The Ladies' Aid Society quilt was sold at a church bazaar to the Eddy family of Gurnee. Family names on quilt: Windel, Dillenbeck, Nottingham, Spaulding, Chamberlain, Waters, Allen, Crosby, Coykendall, Griffin, Stedman, Hollihan, Thompson, Gonyo, Mallory, Metcalf, Fuller, Bidwell, Drake, Sneesby, Sella, Rossbach, Sluman, Price, Finley, Price, Burns, Bacon, Allen, Munro, Chase, Washburn, Persons, Putnam, Hartley, Strang, Bracher, Cary, Gibbons, GaVigan, Peterson, Marsh, Smith, Brown, McGarva, Campbell, Phillips, Lisiecki, Mauston, Hay, Johnson, Champion, Bacon, Worth, Paddock, Mutaw, Lawson, Flood, Neal, Haggart, Maynard, Alexander, Stout, Harr, Wilson, Joslyn, Williams, Schauber, Knox.

A popular aesthetic for signature quilts became red needlework on a white background. It was immensely popular in the latter half of the 19th century.

A particularly successful use of "Redwork" is seen in this Red Cross Signature Quilt (above) from circa 1915. Photo by Mark Widhalm. (LCDM 70.75.7)

Lake County residents paid 10¢ to have their name embroidered on this quilt as a fundraiser for the American Red Cross. Americans aided the Allies in the war effort long before the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. Detail from the Red Cross Signature Quilt. Photo by Mark Widhalm.

There were several influences for the emergence of the red and white aesthetic, including the Japanese pavilion at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, and the popular use of “Turkey Red” dye from the madder plant which was colorfast.

Since the popularity of "Redwork" coincided with a renewed interest in signature quilts, and its golden age (1876-1910), it is not unusual to find red and white signature quilts. Carroll College Commemorative Signature Quilt (above), circa 1899-1905. (LCDM 98.14)

Little is known about this 8-point star signature quilt, found in a dresser in Waukegan. It may have been sold to benefit Carroll College (now Carroll University) in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The signers used the quilt to record marriages and one death. Signatures include Carroll College Professors Rankin, Ray, and Echleman. Detail of Carroll College quilt. (LCDM 98.14).

The quilts discussed in this blog are on display through September 25, 2011 in the museum's "Quilt Treasures: Pieces of History" exhibition. You can also purchase a beautiful set of notecards featuring some of the quilts. Only $14.95 for 20 cards, proceeds benefit the Friends of the Lake County Discovery Museum.

To order contact the museum's store manager, Alicia Fullerton: 847-968-3400 or

Friday, August 12, 2011

Volo Women Vigilantes of 1913

To be "ridden on a rail" was a common form of mob punishment in Colonial America, but curiously, it turned up in the village of Volo in 1913. For those of you not familiar with this term, riding the rail or being run out of town on a rail, was a humiliating punishment in which the victim was made to straddle a wooden fence rail held on the shoulders of men, and then paraded around town and taken to the town limits and dumped.

Generally, it was a man who was ridden on a rail, but in the case of Volo, it was a woman, and women who ran her out of town!
Scene of the "ridden on a rail" incident. Volo's Main Street, circa 1900. Photo from collections of Bess Bower Dunn Museum. Volo is located in western Lake County in the area of Routes 12 & 120. It was known as Forksville until 1868 when the name changed for unknown reasons.

On the evening of July 15, 1913, fifteen women and one man of Volo attacked Mrs. Minnie Schultz Richardson (1874-1963) and made her ride a rail for allegedly having relations with William Dunnill, (1865-1954) her brother-in-law.

Minnie F. Schultz married John Richardson in 1904. Richardson was a general store keeper in Volo, and was crippled. Richardson's sister Rose, married English immigrant and mason, William Dunnill, in 1885 in Wauconda.

Minnie stated in the Lake County Independent: "They say I went buggy riding with him and left my helpless husband at home. It is a cruel lie. I made two trips to McHenry, Ill., in a wagon to get furniture. He is my brother-in-law and he went with me to help me."

Minnie Richardson (left) as pictured in the Lake County Independent on July 25, 1913.

The town's women met about the rumors and decided to take action against the perceived immorality.

It was one of the "captains" of the group, Emma Stadtfield/Stadfield (right), the wife of the town's blacksmith, who went to the Richardson home at dusk to pay a call while the other women hid around a corner. When Minnie came to the door, Emma, who was described in the newspaper as "weighs 180 pounds and is athletic," grabbed her and dragged her to her waiting compatriots.

Emma Stadtfield (right) as photographed on July 24, 1913 for the Lake County Independent.

Emma brought Minnie to the group of about 15 women and one man who immediately started tearing at her dress, and placed her on a twelve-foot fence rail. They carried her a quarter mile (with boys following the procession) to a partially dried pond and jerked the rail back and forth until she fell into the mud. They then kicked Minnie and threw mud at her, all the while taunting her and told her to leave town in 24-hours or they would "apply a coat of tar." In Colonial times, being ridden on a rail was often accompanied by tarring and feathering.
Cartoon of the rail riding from the Lake County Independent, July 25, 1913.

Minnie said in the paper: "So jealous were my neighbors and so peculiar had been their attitude that I had long expected they would do something to injure me—not physically, but in a way that would destroy my peace of mind."

When Minnie had not left town by the following evening, the women reportedly came to her house with a pail of hot tar, but were unable to get inside. Early the next morning, John Richardson "bundled his wife into a rig and drove eighteen miles to Waukegan, where he obtained $1,500 by mortgaging his store." She then caught a train to Chicago to stay with her sister.

Eight of the women who acted in the incident were photographed on July 24, 1913 for the Lake County Independent with the identical rail used. From left to right: Mrs. Albert Miller, Mrs. George Bohr, Mrs. A.J. (Lavinia) Raymond, Mrs. John (Alma) Walton, Mrs. Peter (Emma) Stadtfield, Mrs. Chris Sable, Mrs. John (Anna) Stadtfeldt, Mrs. Jack Frost.

Rose Richardson Dunnill, the wife of Will Dunnill, was also one of the women vigilantes. She left town for several days after the incident to "recuperate from the shock of the rail-riding." It was also reported that her husband mortgaged their home to have money to flee to London, England. (William had immigrated from England in 1884).

Page from Volo's business directory, 1913-1914, showing the Richardsons and Stadtfields. City Directors Collection of Bess Bower Dunn Museum.

Emma Stadtfield was defiant after the incident. "I'll be right at home when the Sheriff comes," she stated to the New York Times. The story had become national news! "We are not afraid of arrest, and we'll ride Mrs. Richardson on a rail again if she ever shows herself here."

When asked by a reporter if she would return to Volo, Minnie stated: "No, never. I could not do it—they were so mean—it was a terrible place. I am going away and start over. I will ask my husband to come to me."

"Someone will have to suffer for bringing this disgrace on us," said Minnie's husband, John Richardson. The newspaper noted that Richardson was interviewed from his wheel chair from which he was unable to move. "My wife is a good woman. She is the victim of malicious gossip... And to think I was helpless to save her from the indignities heaped upon her."

John Richardson filed warrants against five of the women, the key instigators—Emma Stadtfield, Anna Stadtfield, Mrs. Chris Sable, Alma Walton, and Mrs. Jack Raymond. In October 1913, the "rail party" of five women and one man, Edward Krepel, who had "dressed in the garb of a woman," were indicted by a Lake County grand jury. All but Krepel, who "vanished," went to trial. By December, the women were found guilty of rioting.

Lake County courthouse where the Volo women were tried for "rioting" in the "riding the rail" trial. Acmegraph Co. postcard, circa 1910. Bess Bower Dunn Museum 61.8.24.

State's Attorney R.J. Dady said in the trial: "They made themselves judge and jury and executioners of this little woman; they took the law into their hands without asking state or our courts to chastise her for any lawbreaking she may have committed... If you permit them, even if they are women, to go free, you encourage acts such as occur in the south and raise resentment in the north."

The guilty were fined $100 each by Judge Charles Donnelly of the Circuit Court of Waukegan. The Judge also censured the women, saying that their sex alone saved them from receiving the maximum penalty of a $300 fine and six months in jail. The newspapers also noted that four of the women convicted were grandmothers.

What became of the people involved in this criminal incident?

Emma Stadtfield and her blacksmith husband, Peter, remained married and in Volo.

John and Minnie Richardson divorced. In 1920, John is listed as divorced and renting a home in Avon Township, Lake County, and died the following year. Minnie went to live in Chicago. It's possible the $1,500 that John gave her was part of the marriage dissolution.

William and Rose Dunnill also divorced. On November 1, 1916, William Dunnill and Minnie Schultz Richardson married in St. Joseph, Berrien, Michigan seeming to confirm the rumors that sparked the Volo women's fury three years previously. They were married a second time on March 12, 1920 in Chicago, Illinois. They were married for 38 years.

An entry from the Michigan marriage book for William Dunnill and Minnie Schultz, 1916.

William Dunnill and Minnie Schultz's Chicago marriage certificate, 1920.

John Richardson summed up the actions of the vigilantes: "It was an act of middle age barbarism and hardly worthy of women of Illinois who have just obtained the right to vote." On June 26, 1913, the State of Illinois had approved women’s suffrage.

Special thanks to Heidi Steeves who brought this sensational story to my attention, and provided newsclippings and marriage certificate.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Browe School, Newport Township

The Browe School was named for English-born, William Browe, Jr. (1814 - 1888), who gave the land for the school. The Browe School welcomed scholars from 1859 to 1960, and was located east of the Tollway in Newport Township between Dilley's and Mill Creek Roads. (see aerial map below)

Former Browe School students at the Annual Browe Reunion, circa 1910. 
Dunn Museum, Browe School History, 2003.0.36.

The Annual Browe Reunion was known county wide. The first was held in 1877 and each year following on the second Thursday in August. Every teacher and pupil of the school was requested to attend. 

Pictured in the photograph (above), back row standing, left to right: Joseph Harbarker, C.W. Heydecker, Fidelia Dietmeyer, C.T. Heydecker, Andrew Harbarker; Second row: Mary Ann Tucker, MacNamara, Mary Ann Dietmeyer Boller, Andrew Tucker, Clark Gillet; Third row: Marceline Arno Powell, Kate Harbarker, Mary Harbarker Lux, Mary Eve Dietmeyer Stouder, Cecila Dietmeyer Shea, Fedelia Dietmeyer (Fed the Barber), Thomas Strang; Fourth row: John Arno, Jane Arno Nemry, Mary Strock Hansis, Sophia Strock Wells, Sarah Strock Wells, Patrick Tucker, James Tucker; Front row: John Strock, Joseph Dietmeyer, Philip Dietmeyer. 

The first school in this district was a log building constructed prior to 1850. The exact location and name of this predecessor to the Browe School is unknown.

From 1850 to 1858, parents paid 2 cents for each day their child attended school, and supplied one-fourth of a cord of wood for each of their children. Teachers who taught in the "cabin school" included Mrs. Richardson and Hamilton E. Ames (1828 - ca 1868). Ames arrived in Lake County from Pennsylvania with his parents and siblings prior to 1850.

Photo of "large flat rock" from the site of the first school, a log structure. After the first school burned one night, the cause was never determined, the rock was used as a stepping stone for the next school. Students in 1918 noted, "We step on it just as those old people of the 'early times' did." Dunn Museum, Browe School History, 2003.0.36. 

The second school in the district (above) and the first to be named Browe School, photographed circa 1918. 
Dunn Museum, Browe School History, 2003.0.36. This wood frame structure was constructed by Mr. Gaude on a portion of the William Browe Jr. farm in 1859.

In 1817, William Browe, Jr.'s family fled from England to the U.S.. Browe's father was a minister in the Methodist Unitarian Movement and upon the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in June 1817, Browe fled to America in order to escape arrest. William Jr. came to Lake County in 1858, and leased the use of his land for school purposes on January 26, 1859. It was common for farmers to donate or lease a parcel for schools, often stating that if the land ceased to be used for school purposes it reverted back to the family.
Newport Township map showing location of the Browe School on William Browe's land in 1861. 
St. Louis: L. Gast Bro. & Co. Lith., 1861. 

The first teacher in this new building was Roderick D. Ames (1832 - 1914). He married Barbara Sessler in 1859.

In October 1863, William Browe's younger brother, Alfred (1821-1896), arrived in Lake County and bought William's farm. The property was also the location of the school.

As early as 1864-65, while Miss Laura A. Heath (1844-1925, later Mrs. Alfred L. Browe) taught at the school, there were five blackboards, and a map and globe of the world. However, the boys preferred to use the globe for their football games rather than for studying geography.

Tintype photograph of Mary N. Browe, circa 1880. Dunn Museum, Browe School History, 2003.0.36.

Miss Mary N. Browe (1860 - 1952) (above) was a student and then a teacher at the Browe School. In 1863, Mary came to Lake County with her parents, Alfred Browe & Harriet Whittaker, from Newark, New Jersey. Her father bought the property where the school was located. Mary taught over a period of 18 years and was "said to be the best and best liked teacher Browe School ever had." 

Photo of flag raising ceremony at Browe School, 1893. Dunn Museum, Browe School History, 2003.0.36.

In 1893, a flagpole and flag raising was held at the school. The money for the flag and flagpole was raised by the school's Young People's Literary and Debating Society. 

2017 aerial showing approximate location of the former Browe School, noted by red star. 
Lake County GIS and Mapping: 

Beginning about 1918, schools throughout the county were remodeled or rebuilt with brick. This was part of the modernization of rural schools to provide good lighting and heating systems required by law. A brick school was built for the Browe School around 1920. This school was in use until circa 1960. Two years later it was sold for a private residence.

Information for this post came from census records, and the Browe School History completed by students, Maudess Ames and Irene Leable. The history was completed as part of a statewide celebration of Illinois' centennial in 1918.

The Browe School History is part of the School History Collection in the museum's Lake County History Archives. The museum has digitized 52 one-room school histories in order to make them accessible online at the Illinois Digital Archives. The school histories and other collections are digitized as grant funding becomes available. Click here for links to all of the Dunn Museum's school histories online.